New surface-transportation investment can improve access and communities. Work on this West Virginia Division of Highways’ $189 million U.S. 35 project — running from the Mason County line to WV 869 — was awarded to Bizzack Construction, LLC, Lexington, Ky.

Federal Transportation Investment — Fundamental for America & West Virginia — But Leaders Need to Walk the Walk, Not Just Talk the Talk

Infrastructure helps states market themselves. But working to ready areas for the future, while also calling attention to unmet needs, is delicate footwork.

Roberts accentuates the positive. With members that employ over half of the state’s workforce and recognition for member loyalty and retention, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce carries clout and its headquarters are in strategic proximity to the state capital.

On the same day he took his grandson to an outdoor press event, Roberts spoke to the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition about warmer weather coming and the state excelling (in global comparisons too) at getting COVID shots in arms because of good messaging and strong leadership. And Roberts says the state is looking forward to a “long and productive construction season” and that lots of steel and concrete and aggregate have been ordered.

“Every governor, in my now long memory, has made highway development and construction a priority and we have seen economic improvement with every mile that has been created,” says Roberts. He also emphasizes that tourists and citizens are responding positively to West Virginia’s transportation network improvements.

West Virginia understands that communicating with the public is indispensable and that securing transportation investment is a constant climb. Regional economies were slammed by the pandemic and reduced travel affected motor fuel tax collections and West Virginia spring paving projects were cancelled in 2020, according to Clowser. Nearly a year later, the state released its third annual interactive online map of all roadwork projects and separately news outlets noted that the West Virginia Division of Highways reported 26 projects included in a bid letting.

West Virginia Needs Funding, Good Infrastructure & Commerce

Clowser, who leads an organization that represents more than 450 businesses and their 20,000 employees, provides examples of critical arteries that need funding: Route 35, Coalfields Expressway, King Coal Highway, U.S. 340 and Corridor H, which is part of the ADHS.

Transportation improvements are regional and national economic catalysts. Crews from Swank Construction Company, LLC, New Kensington, Pa., are working on a long-awaited West Virginia project upgrading 26 bridges on Interstate 70 (rehabilitation and replacement) between the Ohio and Pennsylvania state lines.

The details behind completing just Corridor H (with work that includes grading, drains, bridges and paving) show that improving the nation’s transportation cannot be separated from relationships between states and federal agencies. The ARC report listed West Virginia Corridor H projects underway receiving a $20 million BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) award, a $12 million INFRA (Infrastructure For Rebuilding America) grant, and a $60 million NSFLTP (Nationally Significant Federal Lands and Tribal Projects) award. The FY 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 116-93) provided $100 million in dedicated funding and this was the first time new federal funds dedicated to ADHS has been provided since 2012.

“Surface transportation is extremely important to our future. We have terrain issues. We have lots of rivers and hills, which means we have to build bridges and then we have to keep them in good repair,” reminds Roberts. “A significant portion of our population lives within a stone’s throw of Pittsburgh. A significant portion of our population lives within a stone’s throw of Washington, D.C., and a significant portion of our population lives on the Ohio/Kentucky border — not to mention the fact that the southern most part of West Virginia is not much more than a rifle shot from the North Carolina border. So, we have a very geographically diverse state. We need to be able to traverse that state and surface transportation is very, very important to us.”

The Biden Administration announced details of its $2 trillion infrastructure plan last week. Its policy blueprint wraps in a focus on climate change but also acknowledges the tremendous need for jobs growth and robustly investing in America’s antiquated transportation network. The U.S. Senate and House have already been working at the committees level to hammer out infrastructure legislation.

Meanwhile, there’s not a news outlet or stakeholder in the country that hasn’t latched on to the federal-infrastructure investment message and the issue is increasingly becoming a bottom-up conversation as opposed to a top-down mandate.

Roberts adds that state residents are “interested in supporting candidates who say ‘let’s do what is necessary to get things fixed’ … and I think they sure want to support somebody who says she or he wants to make things work. … Our society, our commerce, our well-being and our way of life are dependent on upgrading and improving our infrastructure. And we hope in ways that maybe we haven’t even envisioned yet. And we now have the engineering ability, we have new materials available to us, we can do so much more, and we can do it so well.”

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